What Nature Teaches

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #130

“Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God” (1 Cor. 11: 13-16).

So we now come to what I believe is the nub of Paul’s argument. He has grounded his argument in the way the world was created—so I do not think we can legitimately evade his requirement by appeal to Greco/Roman customs. What Paul is teaching in 1 Corinthians is something that “nature itself” also teaches. That doctrine is that women should have a covering on their heads when they pray in public, and that men should not. This is natural theology, and it is reinforced by special revelation.

My reading of this is that a woman’s long hair is given her “for a covering” (v. 15). I do not take it as her long hair is given her “for an illustration of how an additional covering is necessary.” So the lesson is brought to us by nature, and the provision for Paul’s requirement is given to us by nature as well.

But what nature teaches here is nevertheless relevant to man-made coverings. If a man has short hair, and prays in church with a baseball cap on, he is violating the intent of this passage—even though he has short hair. But if a woman has long hair, and wears an additional covering (a veil, covering, or hat), she is accentuating the import of the passage.

Those who do not see this passage as requiring man-made coverings may not therefore dismiss what the passage is actually requiring. Women who do not wear an artificial covering must make a point of making sure that their hair—given them for a covering—actually serves as one. It is not possible to argue that because long hair is given for a covering, this means that long hair is not necessary.

And this leads to the final question. What does “long” mean here? How long before it is a shame to a man? How long before it is a glory to a woman? There are two aspects to this answer. Note that the Bible does not give us quantitative measurements—“over twelve inches,” say. This means that long and short should be defined from the context of the passage, and there are two aspects we should think about. First, the long and short are used as a comparison between men and women. A woman’s hair should be long relative to the man’s, and in particular, relative to her husband’s. When I was a boy, my father had short hair (crew cut) and my mother had long hair (shoulder length). When our kids were little, I had short hair (shoulder length) and Nancy had long hair (down to her waist). This rule of thumb is obviously not completely elastic—say if a man had hair four and a half feet long, we should notice the problem even if his wife had hair six inches longer than that.

The second aspect of this is that hair is given “for a covering.” A man should not have enough hair to wear it that way, and a woman should. This would prevent the opposite “technical solution” of a man with a buzz cut and a woman with hair that is one inch long. Hair is given to the woman for a glory and a covering—and should be received as such.

One last thing, which should be obvious, but I will say it anyway. We are not talking about the exceptional situations—women who lose their hair during chemo, for example.

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29 thoughts on “What Nature Teaches

  1. It still feels like you are not being entirely fair to this section in Corinthians. What Paul meant by a woman praying with her head uncovered was that she had hair as short or shorter than a mans? If he indeed meant hair then why would he use covering and hair in the same verse (verse 6)? The symbol of authority in verse 10 just means longer hair than a man?

  2. Superb unpacking of what Paul is saying. Spot on.

    My only disagreement with what you are saying about this chapter is in this, that I think Paul’s whole argument about hair serves as the basis, in verse 6, for an implicit PROHIBITION for women to “speak” in churches, rather than for an implicit conditional CONCESSION.

  3. “If a man has short hair, and prays in church with a baseball cap on, he is violating the intent of this passage—even though he has short hair.”

    And removing the stiff peak of a white baseball cap does nothing to solve the problem. (Well, somebody had to say it.) So the Pope is also in violation of what Paul says here. I think the Pope does remove his hat during communion, but not necessarily when he prays, which is when he should.

    How about modern Jews? Why do they pray with their heads covered?

    “The skullcap itself has no intrinsic religious sanctity, but the wearing of a head covering, especially in a holy place and when saying prayers, is an ancient Jewish form of respect for God.” (Hayim H. Donin, To Pray as a Jew, p.24-25)

    He goes on to quote the Talmud, and then he says this:

    “And while no direct Biblical reference requires the wearing of a head covering at any time, the Torah did require the priests to wear a head covering while they were engaged in the Temple service. The head covering was part of the sacred vestments that were to be worn as a sign to respect and glory before God (Ex 28:2-4). The custom is that a woman wears a head covering only if she is married.”

  4. Doug,

    Paragraph breaks can only be simulated, currently, by using the (blockquote)(/blockquote) tag from the list of allowed tags displayed just below the comment entry box.

    It should be trivial to add the paragraph (p) tag to the supported list, but it would be even better to enable automatic paragraph detection so that explicit tags are not even necessary. I’d be willing to try to help resolve this if you put me in contact with your web admin. It’s probably a simple setting change in whatever theme you are using.

  5. For A Glory And A Cover Up – I’m very sad because Doug had the opportunity to reclaim our Christian heritage by introducing us back to the historical teaching of the church. Doug had the chance to fix things in the sanctuary but chose modernity. N.T Wright could not have done a better job. Our culture will continue down this confused path. No access to a computer, so I’ll post later on in the week if anyone is interested. But let me leave you with this. Why did Paul use a different word for cover when addressing a woman’s natural long hair? It’s not the same word used in all the other uses of cover. You see Doug does pick and chose to make it fit what his take is. Red is Blue. After all this time, someone figured it out by seeing with new eyes.

  6. After a bit of poking around, it looks like your theme (called “Rundown”), or some other WordPress plugin, may be disabling automatic paragraph formatting (see “wpautop”). For the type of comments that appear on this site, I think you may want automatic paragraph formatting enabled. This will mean that users won’t have to add explicit paragraph tags every time they want a paragraph break.

  7. In my community there are Orthodox Jewish women who cover their hair with a hat, a scarf, or a wig. I assume this is based on Torah-would St. Paul have been deriving some of his thinking about women’s hair from his religious training? The women I see do this any time they are outside their home, not just in temple. I had always assumed that the reason for this was akin to Moslem modesty codes, and that the woman’s hair, being in some sense a sexual characteristic, should only be seen by her family. This had puzzled me because if, as is often the case, a great wig looks better than the woman’s natural hair, how is this promoting modesty and avoiding lust in passers-by? But now I am wondering if the head covering came from some other tradition that Paul adopted?

  8. “How long before it is a shame to a man?”

    I asked that same question of a street preacher once. He scolded me for asking such an impertinent question.

    If a man is married to a woman with floor-length hair, he could thus have it simply down to his shoulders and it would be quite “short” in comparison. Would that be shameful or not? It’s still “long” by my standards.

  9. Regarding the topic, so far I’m inclined to agree with Doug. The debate seems to hinge on whether the covering requirement for women is satisfied by hair (as a sufficient condition) or by a hat (as a necessary condition). The debate doesn’t seem to be about whether men and women have distinct and opposite roles with regard to head covering. There seems to be general agreement about that. Also, there doesn’t seem to be disagreement that, whatever the covering is, women are required to have it, at least in the context of prayer, and men are required not to have it.

    I see the following arguments in favor of the view that the covering refers to a hat of some kind.

    1) Verse 13 provides a specific context where a woman should be covered, namely when praying. This could imply that she doesn’t need her covering outside this context. But since a first-century woman doesn’t put on her hair and take off her hair depending on the occasion, this implies that the covering is a type of hat.

    2) The first half of verse 6 implies that having her hair cut off is distinct from having her head uncovered, which supports the idea that a hat is in view.

    However, I see the following arguments in favor of the view that the covering refers to hair:

    1) Verse 15 specifically states that a woman’s hair is given to her for both a glory and for a covering (veil). Thus long hair seems to a sufficient condition to satisfy the requirement of a covering (veil).

    2) If Paul had meant to refer exclusively to hats as coverings, there would have been no need for him to mention hair at all. Paul would simply have said that women should be covered and men shouldn’t, regardless of their hair length. Whatever is under the hat would be irrelevant to Paul’s point, if the covering is a hat. Yet hair length seems to be the very crux of Paul’s discussion, in a way that makes little sense if the covering refers exclusively to hats.

    3) As Doug mentions, Paul grounds his appeal to the teaching of nature on the difference between men and women. But hats are not a natural distinction between men and women.

    4) Paul identifies that long hair is a dishonor for men, but if the covering refers exclusively to a hat, and a man is not wearing a hat, then his hair length would not be relevant.

    Based on these, I just don’t see how we can reach the strong conclusion that long hair is an insufficient condition, or that a hat is a necessary condition. However, all of the above arguments, for both sides, are consistent with the position that:

    1) Any combination of long hair and/or hat is a sufficient condition to be regarded as a woman’s covering while praying.

    Likewise:

    2) Any combination of long hair and/or hat is a sufficient condition for dishonor for men while praying.

  10. Katecho, why the two different Greek words for covering? Katakalupto used for covering in all of Paul’s usage except vs 15. And Peribolaion used only for covering when addressing long hair in vs 15?

  11. Pastor Wilson, Katecho was fast and already said it all. I agree with him, and I hope his explanation is sufficient.

    I think it was Katecho who came up with this paragraph simulation. At least I copied him, as I spied the html source code of his comments, and eventually several people followed suit. So I guess now it’s already part of the Mablog lore, and I actually have mixed feelings about you fixing it.

    By the way, regarding the comment I made about paragraph breaks and postmillennial maturity in the “All over the map” thread, I trust you saw that I was only pulling your leg. No intention to mock or criticize, just an attempt at light humor. You know I love your ministry.

  12. Hi Katecho,

    <blockquote></blockquote>

    I agree with you regarding hair, and with most everything you say, and not only here. You mention two pro-hats arguments:

    <blockquote></blockquote>

    “Verse 13 provides a specific context where a woman should be covered, namely when praying. This could imply that she doesn’t need her covering outside this context. But since a first-century woman doesn’t put on her hair and take off her hair depending on the occasion, this implies that the covering is a type of hat.”

    <blockquote></blockquote>

    Yes, this may be a fair pro-hats argument when it is conceded by all parties that what Paul wants in this chapter is that women be covered when they pray in the church. But it has no force against my view, that what Paul wants in this chapter is that women do not pray in the church.

    <blockquote></blockquote>

    Then you say,

    <blockquote></blockquote>

    “The first half of verse 6 implies that having her hair cut off is distinct from having her head uncovered, which supports the idea that a hat is in view.”

    <blockquote></blockquote>

    Same thing going on here. This objection fails to impress as seen from my vantage point. Paul is not saying that an “uncovered woman” should, “in addition”, also be shorn (which would arguably imply that to be uncovered and to have short hair are two different things). The word “kai” has latitude of meaning, and I think “indeed” or “namely” fits better than “also” here.

    <blockquote></blockquote>

    I hear Paul saying the following. In public worship, praying and prophesying actually brings dishonor to Christ the Head, unless these things are done with an uncovered head (v. 4).

    <blockquote></blockquote>

    But this means that women must refrain from these two activities. That’s because of the imagery and typology involved. The woman is given hair as a covering. It is her glory. To “uncover her head” for a woman is typologically tantamount to shave her hair, and so to dishonor herself (v. 5). If a the woman is unwilling to obey Paul, and “keep her head covered” (i.e., be silent), then she should indeed shave, because typologically that’s what her eagerness to pray and prophesy in a worship service really amounts to (v. 6a). But if we agree that this would be shameful, then she should keep her head covered, that is, she should be silent in the church (v. 6b).

    <blockquote></blockquote>

    So I think the two arguments for hats you mention are even less convincing on this view.

  13. If I’m missing something incredibly obvious, I humbly ask for some gracious soul to respond anyway.  But I fail to see what is meant by “nature itself teach(es)” that a man should have short hair and a woman, long.  How, where, or in what way is that apparent in natural revelation?
    Katecho says “As Doug mentions, Paul grounds his appeal to the teaching of nature on the difference between men and women. But hats are not a natural distinction between men and women”  But, as I see it, neither is hair, unless we’re talking about facial hair.  Hair grows on heads irrespective of gender, and grows long if it is not cut whether on man or woman.
    This is in no way a defensive question, just a curious one.  Thanks!

  14. Hi FE, you said: “hair [is not a natural distinction between men and women] unless we’re talking about facial hair. Hair grows on heads irrespective of gender, and grows long if it is not cut whether on man or woman.”
    However, Paul argues from creation. Consider that God created Eve in some form. Was Eve created with short hair, which then started to grow? Or maybe God created both Adam and Eve as bald, and then when hair began to grow they arbitrarily decided to cut it differently? If so, did God create them also without fingernails?
    The fact that Paul says long and short hair is a creational distinction makes me more inclined to believe that in Paul’s mind God created Eve with longer hair than Adam to start with. That’s reasonable, it’s how we all usually visualize the creation of Eve, and it explains the nearly universal practice, both geographically and historically, of leaving girls’ hair to grow longer. God created the first woman with longer hair than Adam, and that ended up being normative, something nature teaches. Adam and Eve copied God when their first girl was born, and started the practice. So it would be a practice rooted in God’s creational order.
     

  15. This passage has always troubled me. Nature does not teach that long hair is a shame to a man–it teaches exactly the opposite. In nature, it is the male that is built for show–see the lion, peacock, turkey…
    Isn’t the simplest answer to say that Paul simply made a hash of an argument?
    I am not trying to convince anyone of my point of view–I am happy to be convinced otherwise, but I have never heard an answer to this passage that can be conveyed to an un-saved soul in simple terms.
     
     
     
     

  16. “…. the nearly universal practice, both geographically and historically, of leaving girls’ hair to grow longer.”
     
    This really isn’t the case, as anyone who has studied world history and anthropology can tell you.
     
     

  17. Feeling Obtuse wrote:

    But I fail to see what is meant by “nature itself teach(es)” that a man should have short hair and a woman, long.  How, where, or in what way is that apparent in natural revelation?

    I see a theme in Scripture where the angels and heavenly hosts were created in their full glory from the start, but where mankind moves from lesser glory to greater glory, both individually as we grow up, and in terms of God’s progressing sanctification of history.  God is moving us along toward maturity and glory.

    The glory of young men is their strength, And the honor of old men is their gray hair. - PROVERBS 20:29

    It may seem peculiar to us that hair shows up in the context of glory, but also recall how severely God dealt with the young men (in their immature glory) who mocked the bald head of Elisha.  So perhaps Paul is referring to the difference in mature glory between men and women.  As they gray, men also tend to lose their hair in spectacular ways.

  18. delurking

    This really isn’t the case, as anyone who has studied world history and anthropology can tell you. 

    I don’t think this is correct. I don’t have the passage to hand, but read Stephen Clark’s book Man and Woman in Christ, one of the most carefully argued books on male and female. It is a fairly universal practice both across culture and history.

  19. Gianni,
    your hypothesis is interesting. But it is quite speculative and I think it is simpler to refer to an innate sense implanted within man and woman, that recognizes the beauty of long hair on a woman and the shame of a shaved head.
    This innate natural sense, like any other, can be seared and forgotten, just as much of our culture has forgotten the shamefulness of a woman exercising authority over a man. But many of us feel it keenly, and those who don’t, by God’s grace can have it awakened again by repentance and faith.

  20. addendum,
     
    this would mean that nature (the near universal practice of women with long hair) teaches us because God has given us the capacity to learn this particular thing, due to the innate sense implanted within us.
     
    That is, nature testifies to what God put in our minds.

  21. Henry, I don’t think we have to choose. What you say makes sense, and I don’t deny that God has also built in us a sense of what is proper, beautiful and shameful.
    <blockquote></blockquote>
    However, as I said, Paul makes explicit references to the Garden of Eden while explaining what is natural. Something happened there. Adam and Eve had some appearance. Some universal human practices, like the use of clothes, have their origin in things that happened to our first parents one day. Adam and Eve certainly took notice of how God clothed them, and most likely did the same to their children, which I think satisfactorily explains the universal practice of clothing. To affirm that is not to deny that God has placed in us an inner sense of modesty and shame. On the contrary, it is to root that fact in revealed history, since the Bible is not silent about that.
    <blockquote></blockquote>
    This falls short of absolute certainty, of course, and it is more in the deductive realm of good and necessary consequence. But it is not more speculative, I think, than your apparent view that the Garden of Eden has probably nothing to do with this.
    <blockquote></blockquote>
    Finally, you seem to agree that God thinks that it is beautiful and good and proper for a woman to have longer hair, and for man to have shorter hair. Well, if so, and since there was no one there to stop His hand, I wonder, how do you think God decided to create Adam and Eve?
     

  22. The problem with delurking’s objection is the word “longer.” We all know many cultures have endorsed men’s hair growing long by 19th-21st century American standards, but I can’t think of an exception to the rule that women’s hair is ordinarily longER except among some ethnic groups for which hair simply doesn’t grow very long unless specially treated, or some subgroups of society in which long hair on men was a special identity marker (e.g. the 18th-19th century Royal Navy, Chinese court officials, etc., in which case most women’s hair was still as long as or longer than the longest men’s hair.) And even in many of those cultures with naturally occurring short hair, women’s hair was teased out to encourage growth.

  23. Gianni,

     
    Well, if so, and since there was no one there to stop His hand, I wonder, how do you think God decided to create Adam and Eve?  
     

    I don’t disagree with the conclusion of this argument, I just not sure about the direction of it.

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    Gently Down the Stream - Well it’s been amusing and sad to read through all these blogs and how the church in history got it wrong on this tradition, but everyone here seams to be getting it right, and even on spot!  I’ve already extolled the virtues of Doug Wilson and my indebtedness to him.   That being said, Doug has done a great harm to the church at large, with this review of 1 Corinthians 11.  You see, removing this symbol, is phase one gestation of the pig the python swallowed before moving down the line to feminism, women’s ordination and now the homosexual movement.  1 Cor 11 is where Doug, N.T. Wright and every other minister in America have gotten into the same exegetical row boat and taken off down the waters of compromise (and it is sin not to worship God the way He says to).  The historical church for nineteen hundred years has said this means blue, but modern ministers, and almost everyone on this blog (except katecho, thanks for keeping the door open), are saying it can be a rainbow of colors, but not blue, (Doug to his credit has attempted to create an off blue color but it’s still an insulting imitation).  Overall, every minister in America hates the idea of having to preach that women should wear a hat or scarf in worship, or at least hate the idea of saying that the symbol has theological efficacy.  Keep in mind that on this topic there was a vast theological vacuum created only two generations ago.  As if there was a great 20th century ecumenical counsel with Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Reformed, Presbyterian  and all other denominations getting together and deciding that the physical symbol of wearing a hat or scarf is no longer necessary in worship.  Almost overnight, the entire churches worship had changed radically, and yet without any councils, studies, books, papers etc (and yes in violation of the WCF 23:1).  But why?  The historical church has taught and practiced that all women should wear a physical symbol of a hat or scarf in worship as a priestly vestment and creed of creation acknowledging God’s governance and hersubmissiveness to Christ her head.  The answer as to why modern ministers changed the historical practice of this tradition is not because of any new theological understanding, but rather a buckling of the knees at the pressures of higher criticism and the feminist movement.  Too much to go into here, but the bottom line was that ministers bought into the notion that “the tradition is so demeaning and belittling to modern women, its degrading.”  And being embarrassed of the word of God, ministers sat back silently and watched Eve remove this symbol of worship in the sanctuary.  And of course, nothing happened immediately. But the consequences for our society have been imaging.  But that was then, what about now.  What about the gospel preachers who hold up the word of God ‘without compromise’?  What about modern ministers who take on the homosexual and feminist movements?  Theological pride has historically crippled the church.  It puff’s up it’s leaders even to the point of believing that they can see through new eyes, rather than the light of history.   For any minister now to believe the historical teaching would mean humility, repentance and an acknowledgment that he was wrong and has not led the church in proper worship.  The fact that within the reformed community alone, there are numerous interpretations of this tradition testifies to the modern confusion on the issue.  Now if the historical church was correct, that this simply means what it says, that a woman should wear a hat or scarf, why all the confusion?  Could it be that when the church decided to take down this sanctuary symbol in the worship of God, that God gave us over to seeing but not perceiving and hearing but not understanding?  If a woman does not wear a hat or scarf, and Paul says then let her cut off her hair, are we then creating a type of worship that demonstrates a same sex sanctuary?  

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